Empire Market Founders Charged Over Illegal Marketplace

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  • Two individuals have been charged for operating Empire Market, a dark web marketplace for illegal goods worth over $430 million
  • Thomas Pavey and Raheim Hamilton have been accused of managing Empire Market from 2018 to 2020
  • The indictment has alleged that they facilitated around four million illegal transactions totaling more than $430 million

Two individuals have been charged in a Chicago federal court for their involvement in operating Empire Market, a dark web marketplace facilitating the anonymous trade of illegal goods and services worth over $430 million. Thomas Pavey, known online as “Dopenugget,” and Raheim Hamilton, also known as “Sydney” and “Zero Angel,” are accused of managing Empire Market from 2018 to 2020. According to the indictment issued Friday by the US District Court in Chicago, the duo allegedly facilitated approximately four million transactions, encompassing illegal drugs, counterfeit goods, and other illicit services, amounting to more than $430 million. 

From ApplhaBay to Empire Market

Prior to creating Empire Market, Pavey and Hamilton were allegedly involved in selling counterfeit US currency on AlphaBay, an infamous dark web marketplace shut down in 2017. Pavey, a 38-year-old from Ormond Beach, Florida, and Hamilton, a 28-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia, launched Empire Market on February 1, 2018, utilizing specialized anonymizing software and a .onion address to hide their efforts, attracting thousands of vendors and buyers.

Items sold included controlled substances like heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and LSD, as well as counterfeit currency and stolen credit card information. Users could browse through categories such as “Fraud,” “Drugs & Chemicals,” “Counterfeit Items,” and “Software & Malware,” and transactions were completed using cryptocurrency. Buyers also had the option to review and rate their purchases.

$75 Million Seized

During the investigation, federal authorities seized cryptocurrency valued at $75 million at the time, alongside cash and precious metals. Pavey and Hamilton were arrested last week and accused of a litany of crimes including drug trafficking, computer fraud, access device fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering, all of which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The bust is yet another reminder that, even when taking such precautions as Pavey and Hamilton did, the chances of getting caught today are far higher than historically.